A Few Thoughts on BC’s Electoral Reform Ballot

If you’re a BC resident, don’t forget to send in your ballot for the 2018 Referendum on Electoral Reform. This opportunity may not come along again in our life time, so don’t waste a rare chance to have a direct say in how our democracy is run. When I used to teach political science at UFV, I would always start my lecture on elections with this line from David Foster Wallace:

“By all means stay home if you want, but don’t bullshit yourself that you’re not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some diehard’s vote.”

I’m a diehard. You can see how I voted. So why did I vote this way? The simple answer is that no electoral system is perfect. Each one has flaws, so we should choose the system with fewest weaknesses and the best chance of maintaining the best features of each system.

The First Past the Post system, the one we have now, is grossly undemocratic. It allows the candidate with the most votes to take all the power in his or her riding (that is, 100%), even if the candidate only receives 40% of the vote. All the other votes – and the candidates the votes are attached to – are ignored. Add that up 87 times and you can imagine how lopsided the results can be. In fact, the Socreds, NDP and the Liberals have all benefited from lopsided BC votes, getting far more ridings than their popular vote would suggest. If a democracy is supposed to represent the will of the people, FPTP simply isn’t kosher.

Of course, a purely proportional system has one key disadvantage too. A proportional system is usually based on party lists that are published by each political party before the election. As such, there is no politician elected by constituents to represent their local interests. As someone who’s had a family member work for a local MP, I know this representation is an important link between citizens and government.

Ranked ballot systems (RBS) allow you choice, and, in fact, the current ballot uses a ranking system to decide which proportional system you prefer. If we use RBS in a system with political ridings like we have in BC, we will certainly get more candidates over the 50% mark, and allow them to say they represent the “majority” of the riding. Of course, given all the 2nd and 3rd votes, this majority is often artificial, and only partially legitimizes all of the votes in that riding. RBS also requires complicated computer tallies, which removes an important part of the election system from popular oversight. [This is one reason I don’t like the RUP option.] Finally, RBS sometimes allows a fringe third party to gain power, as voters of the two dominant parties will often refuse to give a 2nd vote to the other main party.

So what is the best course of action? Given that no system is perfect, I say we choose a system that strikes a balance, and provides the best features of an electoral system while mitigating the worst. For me that is Mixed Member Proportionality (MMP). It is part FPTP (which provides local representation) and part proportionality, which allows for a list of party candidates that is chosen on straight percentages. A 5% minimum filters out the crazies. Two questions on a ballot, one for a local representative and one for your party. Easy to vote, easy to figure out.

What do you think?

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